This Thing Called Grace
Grace is a uniquely Christian concept. I can remember those words during a Doctrine of Grace course, taught by an extraordinary biblical theologian; Dr. Jack Cottrell at Cincinnati Christian University. The course looked at the theological tenets prescribed by the world’s major faiths, concerning the divine-human relationship.
Grace. Unmerited favor. A gift of God, born out of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The deep well of blessings for which we could not dig. Good things that we cannot, on our own, earn. Enjoyed simply out of God’s nature and extended to His children.
A widely held misconception about Christianity is that this notion of grace works as a security blank that Christians hide under to wantonly live in sin. Non-believers critique Christians as holding onto God as a cosmological santa claus; an idea that leads us from righteous living into an abyss of spiritual lawlessness. The non-Christian charge is, however, a false understanding misrepresents Christianity and, by extension, leads followers of other faiths to a fallacious sense of “self righteousness”. It’s unthinkable that someone can turn to their good deeds or lawkeeping as meritorious before the excellency of God’s judgment.
A true appreciation for God’s grace does not lead one to lackadaisical attitudes about sin. The Apostle challenged, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? [Romans 6:1]”
Paul’s question is rhetorical as he goes onto answer, “God forbid [Romans 6:2].“
If there is a struggle in the Christian who seeks more of God’s heart, it is in the constant reminder of one’s inadequacy. The voice of conscience, through which God convicts us of words and deeds that conflict with the Spirit of Christ. As Paul says, our spirit groans [Romans 8:26, 2 Corinithans 5:2]. And this is particularly difficult when we lose balance. When the chosen called to enter into rest, become despondent with personal shortcomings. That out-of-balance spiritual condition, if left to its devices, stuns Christian expression. Stymies an individual’s walk. And it is safe to say that even now, some have walked away from their ministry calling as a result of personal frustrations with one’s self.
Romans, chapter 7 describes this tension as well as any other passage:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. – Romans 7: 14-25
Consequently, salvation in Jesus Christ does not dull our senses to sin, but quite the opposite. The work of the Holy Spirit heightens our realization of our spiritual predicament. Namely, a desire to live according to God’s law, but a propensity to do just just the opposite. What Paul calls “warring” within our members. From someone inspired by God to write the deeper things of our faith, including the idea of grace, the Apostle was far from being comfortable with sin. Indeed, one implication of Paul’s statement calls into question the idea that a transformed mind could be indifferent to sin.
Our Way Out
However, an equally damaging condition exists at the other extreme of warfare. Condemnation. Hyper-criticism that leaves the believer navigating life, cloaked in guilt. Gone unchecked, our [necessary] conviction leads to heaping onto ourselves coals of condemnation, prohibiting us from welcoming the grace of God. But a life given to Christ is not one to live in anguish that we fall short of our walk as Christians.
As such, Paul moved from the tension we experience during the ongoing war within to the freedom we find in Christ:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. – Roman 8: 1-4
Here then, is what non-believers misunderstand about Christians. Grace is not an excuse to sin, but the only way imperfect beings can find peace in the blessings of a perfect God.
A Guided God Date
God Dates are planned with purpose in-mind. And yet, the Keeper of our Soul remains sovereign in ordering our steps. God is honored by our efforts in seeking Him first. But what a blessing to know that God who both searches our hearts and orders our steps can orchestrate guided God Dates.
On this evening, I left my residence, steep in self-judgment. Throughout my Christian experience, I’ve wrestled with not getting it “right”. And in one case, the coals led me away from my calling. I drove around to have time alone with the Lord. That drive found me in-essence, speaking death. Not in a literally sense, but rather in self-condemnation, accepting a stituation as God’s judgment for a decision I made several years ago. At one point, the coals were so pressing me into an abyss of condemnation that I stopped in a parking lot and ultimately fell asleep in my car!
Upon waking, I drove to a nearby restaurant. And it was there, that I met my new friend, Mike. A waiter that met me at the entrance.
Beyond Mike, I saw a waitress whom I had not seen in weeks. “How’s that baby doing?”, I asked.
Cindy replied, “She’s fine. Turning four later this week!”
“Let me see a picture. I bet she’s beautiful.”
Walking towards the kitchen, Cindy responded, “Sure. Hold on. I’ll be back.”
She soon returned. And glowing with pride, Cindy handed me the picture.
I asked, “What’s her name?”
“Karma. That’s interesting and she is so pretty.”
Inside, I was thinking, “I could not have written such an ironic script.“
Obviously, Karma has both positive and negative connotations, depending on the circumstances. Obviously, positive from perspective of the mother. As for me, on a night of hot coals, it seemed a dreadful confirmation.
I finished my coffee and moved towards the checkout. Seeing me from across the room, Mike shouted, “It’s on the house.“
He continued towards me, “Hey, let me share something with you, speaking about better days and worse days. My wife and I are going through a divorce. She’s an alcoholic. And I just found out that I have lung cancer. Been on chemo for four weeks.”
I was engrossed in what Mike would share over the next few minutes. Led by the Spirit, I asked, “Mike, can I pray with you?”
So there we stood. In the middle of the restaurant. And in Donald Trump’s racially toxic America. A black man and a white man. The Spirit of the Lord gave me words that spoke life to Mike, his wife, and the third person – marriage. The prayer called upon God to send ministering angels. That his days would know restored health.
At the conclusion of the prayer, Mike pointed to the window, “See that truck. During Hurricane Harvey, I drove through Houston in that truck to help pull people out of the waters.”
How that blessed my spirit. Mike could have been consumed in his marital challenges and serious health concerns. But serving others was on his mind!
“It was for this reason, Mike, that my evening took the course that it did God wanted us to have this time together.”
When I left my residence for a drive, I did not know Mike. And he did not know me. Mike was new to the establishment. But God knew us. And on this evening, a series of seemingly unrelated events unfolded that would place us on a mutual course of spiritual renewal.
Sometimes, we endure such a heavy spiritual attack that our spirit man gets mired in the swamp of regret and guilt. This can be paralyzing, spiritually. And yet, in those moments, the Lord is faithful. He places us in situations that prompt us to “stir up the gift”. Life moments that God calls us back to our gifts in order to break through self-condemnation. God’s providence ordains encounters that not only bless others, but also assure us that we are still His.
Ultimately, God desires that these seasons correct us. Redirect us. And inspire us. This, then, is my encouragement. In the words of former Temptations lead singer and later solo artist, Eddie Kendricks, “Keep on truckin’.” You shall live and not die. And what God purposed for you life will not return void. Be not weary in well-doing. You will reap the harvest, if you faint not [Galatians 6:9]. In the season of reflection, stir up the gift that’s hidden in your earthen vessel [2 Corinthians 4:7].
Thank you, Lord, for an guided God Date with Mike and the opportunity to stir up my gift.
— Your Child